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The Extreme State of Horror?

By Oren Kamara     July 09, 2006


Jay Hernandez in HOSTEL (2006).
© Lions Gate Films
Lately, I've heard a lot of complaints about the current direction of the horror genre. I never thought I'd see the day when scary movies were thought to be going too far, especially because horrific tales have been with us since the beginning of time. With recent films like Hostel and the Saw series hitting the big screen, audiences are seeing the industry stretch the limits of how far they can go...or are they?

First of all, let's not forget that while these new "extreme" horror flicks may seem new and eye-popping to our sensitive palates, our overseas friends have been enjoying and accepting this type of extreme horror for quite some time. And with no complaints. Hell, half of the genre's current selection has been inspired by or a remake of Asian horror films. It's no wonder American filmmakers would eventually borrow (who are we kidding-we steal) everything the Asians have to offer.

But are these "extreme" films really that new to us? Look back at the 1970s. This decade brought us some of the scariest and graphic films of all time: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Exorcist, Last House on the Left...the list goes on. These movies redefined the genre, sending people running for the rafters and this was 30 years ago. If the 1930s brought us Dracula and Frankenstein and grind-house cinema exploded in the 1970s, isn't it logical that today's horror films would reflect today's world? First the Depression, then the Recession. Now, who knows what's going on, but our youngsters are most certainly more savvy and less sensitive than they were in the past. For crying out loud, people, this is horror!

One of the loudest complaints I've heard is that these films are just too real for audiences. Why is it acceptable to see the ugliest side of human nature on reality-based TV shows, where real people lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want? But a fictional vengeful psychopath forcing people to cut off their limbs and turn on one another simply for survival is too excessive? The fact is, horror films make people uncomfortable and they should. They are designed to scare. C'mon, let's be honest, with the current state of politics, war, social tension, and environmental crisis, are these movies that wrong? It's the whole 1980's Iron Maiden epidemic all over again. Art is not to blame. Guns don't kill people, people kill people and the same is true for movies. When a movie like "There's Something About Mary" can get the comedy audiences chuckling over "gel" in her hair, why can't a happy-go-lucky fruitcake pay money to poke out his victims eyes in Hostel?

Now, me personally, I like my horror fast, graphic, and in your face. Throw on a heaping side of gore and a dash of giggles and I'm a happy camper. I also love Martin Lawrence movies, but that's me and many (okay, most) wouldn't agree with my tastes. But shouldn't I (and you) have the freedom to choose? If horror films bother you, why on Earth would you go see a movie where the poster depicts chainsaws and body parts or the victim staring back at you in fear? You're in the wrong damn theater. Narnia is two doors down! Wake up America, film is art and art has the right, no, the need to push boundaries and challenge us.

Don't get me wrong, I love all horror movies and I think American scare flicks are damn good. However, I also think the good ones are few and far between and, when they do see the light of day, they panned by our ultra-sensitive critics, stigmatized as too graphic or violent. Take Rob Zombie's Corpses series. I love them both and truly tip my hat to the Z man for having the matzah balls to make such fine films. But love or hate House of 1000 Corpses or Devil's Rejects, the point is that these films stand for something. They represent a type of horror movie that has just as much a right to stand up and be heard, to say, "sure I may be blood covered and sick to my very core...but don't I have the right to be seen as well?"

I want the choice and the right to get my horror as dark and disturbing as I can get it. There will always be Hollywood's "diet horror" for those of you who want glossy, clean-cut scares (yawn). The easy way out. However, to the rest of us who want to see that decapitation, to see what happens when a human body is used like a Stretch Armstrong doll, who crave our horror to be exactly that, horrific, I say stand up and be counted. Let your voice be heard in a scream queen-esque shriek ... Viva la gore!

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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shaftboy 7/9/2006 10:10:05 PM
I totally agree with the article above. It's like what Todd McFarlane says "If you hate carrots and the grocery store sells carrots you don't try to get them to stop selling carrots!" I don't know how many people I've heard say "Well you should see how my kid get's after he see's these violent movies and games, it affects him." Well, then why the hell are you letting him watch them!
dmedwards 7/10/2006 12:59:27 AM
I personally do not like the obscene torture and shocking violence that is characteristic in some of the more recent horror films. I have always been a horror movie fan but movies like SAW are pushing the envelope a bit too far. I think one of the best horror-suspense movies ever made was Seven as it had excellent story to go with the horrors it showcased on the screen. I also liked how it never showed in the end the decapitated head of his wife as instead it was confirmed to him by Morgan Freeman followed by a dramatic flashback of her image in Mills mind.
GallinaAstuta 7/10/2006 1:10:53 AM
I agree. I enjoy a thriller as much as the next person, but I also like to see gore horror. I know what I'm getting myself into, and I don't force anyone into it. My wife didn't like Texas Chainsaw, so why would I aske her to go see Hostel with me? Bottom line is: if you don't like it, don't go see it. If you went and it was too gross for you, get out, or stop the movie and go rent The Princess Diaries or something, but don't ruin it for the rest of us by complaining
snallygaster 7/11/2006 8:34:27 AM
I agree that there are higher, more cerebral forms of horror out there. But I also believe that the more visceral form of horror is equally valid. The goal of horror movies is to invoke fear or terror, but disgust can also be a goal of horror movies as well. It's an easier, cheaper form of horror - something we experience when driving past a particularly horrid roadkill, for example. It doesn't require thought process, just reaction on a very base, instinctual level. I saw two movies earlier this year that fit this category of horror - Hostel and Wolf Creek (which I haven't seen mentioned here yet). Both left me feeling empty, hollow, numb, and a bit nauseous. Were they great movies? No. Did they succeed as horror films? I'd say yes, because my emotional reaction is what I believe the filmmakers intended. I wouldn't call Hostel complete crap. It's a gruesome update on the classic horror theme of a cautionary tale, which extends clear back to the Brothers Grimm (read some of their fairy tales from their earliest incarnations, before they were heavily revised, and you'll see the beginnings of today's visceral horror). Or to put it another way, Hostel is basically an urban legend on film - horny boys take up an offer for easy sex that's too good to be true and wind up in a nightmare situation. It's a simple story, but then again, most horror plots don't need to be as complex as most thrillers.
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